BANGOR, Maine — Supporters of same-sex marriage gathered Wednesday outside the Bangor Public Library to announce that its coalition had grown to 77 members.
“We can feel the energy around our campaign has grown every day,” said Matt McTighe, campaign manager for Mainers United for Marriage. “In January, our coalition included 25 members. Now it’s grown to 77. We have thousands of supporters and volunteers who are hard at work to make sure that all loving, committed couples in Maine can get married.”
Pastor Bob Emrich of Protect Marriage Maine, which opposes the November referendum on same-sex marriage, said in a telephone interview after the press conference that nothing new was announced Wednesday by supporters.
“There was no substance to it,” Emrich said. “It was more of the same. They hold a press conference to announce they have a coalition, then they hold a press conference to announce they’ve added to it. People aren’t going to vote on something like this based on how many coalition members they have. It’s obvious we are not as adept at planning and holding press conferences and issuing press releases.”
Emrich said the Protect Marriage Maine campaign has been working outside the media spotlight at fundraising, recruiting volunteers and planning its campaign strategy. He said he expected a campaign manager and communications director to be announced soon.
In addition to organizations, businesses and individuals who publicly support the Nov. 6 referendum that would allow same-sex couples to marry, nearly 350 members of the clergy and lay members of faith communities around Maine have announced their support for the campaign, McTighe said. Ministers and pastors in 20 different denominations from 158 towns have signed a religious affirmation of same-sex marriage.
“I want to publicly recognize and celebrate the breadth of support for marriage for same-sex couples from many faith traditions,” the Rev. Elaine Hewes, pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Bangor, said at the press conference. “For those people of faith who are making up their minds, it’s helpful to know that there are many faithful people who support the freedom to marry not despite the teachings and values in their faith traditions, but because that’s where they believe the teaching and values of their faith traditions ask them to stand.”
At the press conference, Hewes represented the Religious Coalition Against Discrimination, an interfaith organization of religious and lay leaders that works to educate and publicly advocate for the civil and human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals.
Hewes said that her own support for same-sex marriage came “from a life of prayerful reflection.”
“There is no clearer image of God’s relationship with us than that of a relationship in which two persons promise their unconditional love and support to one another, ‘for richer and for poorer, in sickness and in health, for as long as they both shall live,’” she said. “As a person of faith I believe I am called to support and foster all such committed relationships, not only because it is a justice issue, but because such relationships are beneficial for the larger community and give us a glimpse of the fullness of life which God longs for us all.”
A Bangor real estate broker represented business members of Mainers United for Marriage. Bev Uhlenhake said 12 businesses including Williams Pond Lodge Bed and Breakfast in Bucksport, the Colonial Theater in Belfast, Bellows Woodworks in Hancock and the Space Gallery in Portland have joined the coalition.
“Small businesses live, breathe, grow and prosper as parts of their community,” said Uhlenhake of Epstein Commercial Real Estate in Bangor. “Being part of a community means working hard, telling the truth, showing good will toward others, doing a good job and treating people fairly. And those same core values are why so many business people support the freedom to marry.”
Uhlenhake, her partner, Sue Uhlenhake, and their then-1-year-old son, Ben Uhlenhake, all of Brewer, were among the more than 3,000 people who turned out for a public hearing in April 2009 before the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee on a bill to allow same-sex couples to marry. The two women, who had a commitment ceremony in 2006, urged passage of the bill.
Three years ago, the Maine Legislature passed and Gov. John Baldacci signed into law a bill that allowed same-sex couples to marry in Maine. It was repealed the following November by a vote of 53 percent to 47 percent.
After the loss at the ballot box, EqualityMaine began an outreach campaign to talk about the issue and began gathering signatures in August 2011 to put a question before voters again. Advocates turned in petitions from 453 towns and cities on Jan. 26. The Maine secretary of state’s office announced in February that enough valid signatures had been turned in to put the question on the ballot.
Uhlenhake, who has a set of 2-year-old twins with her partner and whose son is now 4, said the reason businesses should support the referendum comes down to the issue of fairness.
“Right now, my partner and I cannot get married, even though we love each other deeply, even though we’ve made a pledge to care for each other for the rest of our lives, and even though we’re raising a beautiful family together,” she said at Wednesday’s press conference. “We want to marry for reasons not so different than other couples: to make a public promise to one another and to demonstrate our commitment and love to one another.”
Ann Luther of Trenton, who is on the board of directors of the League of Women Voters of Maine, represented the numerous public service, education and advocacy partners in the coalition at the press conference.
“As someone who has been married for 20 years, I know firsthand the gifts and responsibilities that marriage bestows on a couple,” she said. “I also know that the love and commitment of my friends who are in same-sex relationships looks no different than the love that my husband and I share.”
Mainers United for Marriage also used the press conference to urge Secretary of State Charlie Summers to include the religious exemption language that was on petitions on the November ballot. Last month, Summers released a draft of the question that said: “Do you want to allow same-sex couples to marry?”
McTighe has said the language in the question that appears on the ballot should be more similar to the one that was used during the petition drive.
That question was: “Do you favor a law allowing marriage licenses for same-sex couples that protects religious freedom by ensuring no religion or clergy be required to perform such a marriage in violation of their religious beliefs?”
Opponents of same-sex marriage have said that the so-called religious exemption isn’t legally necessary because the it is covered by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Catholics for Marriage Equality Maine issued a press release Wednesday following the Mainers United press conference that said its members had submitted 293 comments to Summers’ office urging that the religious exemption be included in the ballot question.
Summers is expected to release the final version of the ballot question before the end of the month.
Correction: An early version of this story requires clarification. About 350 clergy and lay members of faith communities around Maine have signed a pledge of support for same-sex marriage put forward by the Religious Coalition against Discrimination.